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Black to Blues [EP] [Digipak]
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  • Personnel: Ben Wells, Chris Robertson (vocals, guitar); John Fred Young (vocals, harmonica, drums); Jon Lawhon (vocals); Ryan Stiles, Murf Adams (horns); Andrea Tanaro (background vocals).
  • Audio Mixers: David Barrick; Chris Robertson.
  • Recording information: Barrick Recording, Glasgow, KY.
  • At first glance, it's tempting to consider Black Stone Cherry's Back to Blues EP a stopgap after the runaway success of 2016's Kentucky. That album landed in the Top 40 in the States, and at number five on the U.K.'s album charts, placed in the high reaches of streaming and download lists, and took them all across the globe on tour. Upon hearing this six-track set of classic blues covers, it becomes clear that the word "back" means that the blues has always been at the heart of BSC's sound. It also means "back" in the sense that blues were once a de rigueur, inseparable part of hard rock's history.
  • Recorded at David Barrick's studio -- the same place where Kentucky was tracked -- these six songs were cut in two days to capture their immediacy and rawness as seen through the band's '70s-inspired hard attack. Set opener "Built for Comfort" penned by Willie Dixon (who wrote half the songs here) is closely associated with Howlin' Wolf. After a brief piano intro, the track becomes an exercise in writhing chug, with its enormous riff paving the way for swaggering, snaky boogie. The placement of a dirty, funky clavinet in the mix just behind the guitars and the rumbling one-note bassline are a nice touch, too. The weaving of swampy slide guitar and harmonica in Muddy Waters' "Champagne and Reefer" is followed by a hoary blues-metal vamp. Its groove is nasty and unbelievably heavy; it could almost pass for a BSC original. "Palace of the King" is one of Freddie King's anthem. Co-penned by Donald "Duck" Dunn and Leon Russell, the band's take is pure bombastic choogle, boasting razor-sharp lead guitar fills and a Bonnie Bramlett-esque backing female vocal chorus (courtesy of Andrea Tanaro). It takes stones to cover Dixon's "Hoochie Coochie Man" in the 21st century. BSC deliver it with relish as a slow-burning, metal boogie complete with quaking horns, Ben Wells' stinging guitar, and whomping kick drum. "Born Under a Bad Sign" was a hit for Albert King and is a staple in electric blues, having been covered by dozens of artists including Cream, Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac, and Rita Coolidge. BSC's homage to King acknowledges the Southern R&B at the tune's heart (it was composed by Booker T. Jones and William Bell) but owes as much to Free and Humble Pie in its presentation as King's scorching blues. Funky horn breaks shore up Chris Robertson's growling vocal while massive hard-rock riffing claims the foreground. Dixon's "I Want to Be loved" is done roadhouse style. Its stomp and whomp are all raucous joy set alight by screaming, house-rocking guitars, a pounding Otis Spann-esque piano, and squalling harmonica. Back to Blues doesn't come off as a stopgap at all; it puts on a peacock's display of all of BSC's strengths while offering a fresh take on the music that inspired generations of rockers. ~ Thom Jurek
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